You've got a Friend - and he's a Norwich fan

Tempers flare and Matthew Lowton of Burnley against Norwich City

Tempers flare and Burnley's Matt Lowton is about to get a yellow card from referee Kevin Friend during the Premier League game against Norwich City at Turf Moor - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Something very unusual happened last weekend, and I’m not talking about City picking up a point at Burnley; I’m referring to the fact that I actually found myself praising a Premier League referee. 

Regular readers will be well aware that this is as rare as hen’s teeth, but I thought that Kevin Friend was excellent at Turf Moor. Arriving in quintessential 'it’s grim up north' weather, with rain sheeting down from slate grey skies, the scene seemed to be set for City to be bullied by Sean Dyche’s team. 

However, with Friend showing yellow cards to five home players, Burnley weren’t able to kick City out of the game so, instead, embarked on an increasingly desperate search for a penalty, but got little change from a referee who showed great common sense, despite massive pressure. 

In fact, the boos from the home faithful as Friend left the pitch at the end of the game were by far the most noise they made all afternoon. 

It may have been only a single point, but it was vitally important for City to stop the bleeding, and to do so in a game like this, exactly the sort in which they have struggled in recent seasons, will have done wonders for their confidence. 

It may also have marked the genesis of a new, more pragmatic City, and whilst there will be justifiable criticism of the lack of cutting edge, the defensive solidity shown at Turf Moor, with all three centre backs, led by a dominant Grant Hanley, putting in high class performances was a welcome sight. 

Burnley aren’t subtle, and City probably had to defend more crosses than they had in all their previous games this season combined, but their sheer physicality makes them hard to play against, yet the Canaries stood up to the test rather than wilt under pressure, and that’s something tangible to build on. 

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However, it was worrying that City’s two best efforts came from a defensive midfield player, although we are discovering that Mathias Normann is considerably more than that and looks like the kind of box-to-box player that City have lacked. 

His passing was sometimes errant, although he produced a couple of peaches, but he is growing in stature game by game and will be key to how City’s season develops. What I particularly like is that he is prepared to go long when he sees the opportunity, and that makes City a little less predictable. 

Ozan Kabak is also starting to show what he can bring and his end-to-end dribble, which included three failed attempts to bring him down before the inevitable booking for Jay Rodriguez, was quite a sight to behold, but I’m not convinced by the partnership between Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent. 

Josh Sargent of Norwich applauds the traveling support at the end of the Premier League match at Tur

Josh Sargent - his relationship with Teemu Pukki is a work in progress - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Both got through an enormous amount of work in closing down and harrying Burnley defenders, but I’d like to see Pukki spending more time where he is at his best, in and around the opposition box. 

Sargent looks like he would happily run all day, but doesn’t give the impression of being a natural goalscorer and that raises the question of whether someone playing behind Pukki rather than alongside him may be more productive, although it may simply be a case of giving the partnership time to develop. 

Unfortunately, the fact that City sit on one point from seven games creates a dilemma in that systems and personnel take time to gel and yet results are needed sooner rather than later.  

What is good to see, though, was the level of commitment and unity shown by the players at Burnley. Despite the position that City find themselves in, it’s clear that, despite the gloomy prognostications of the readers of runes, the dressing room is fully behind the manager, and the warm applause from the away end suggests that most fans are too. 


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